U.S. Rep. Ron Kind announced a deal Thursday that may remove the biggest hurdle to his support for federal health care reform.
The agreement would link health care providers' Medicare payments to quality of care rather than quantity, which the La Crosse Democrat long has sought.
He and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, hailed the agreement in a conference call as a "monumental breakthrough" in health care reform talks.
Local health care providers such as Franciscan Skemp in La Crosse gave the move a more tempered endorsement, calling it a first step toward reforming a Medicare reimbursement formula they claim now shortchanges them.
Kind has made reforming the Medicare formula a priority, saying it now reimburses providers for volume of procedures rather than value.
His opposition to the current formula led him in July to vote against a health care reform bill in the House Ways and Means Committee.
The agreement Thursday addresses his key objection, Kind said.
"We will no longer be paying for the volume of care given, but rather for the outcome," Kind said.
House leaders have pledged to include Thursday's agreement in their health care reform bill, though it's not clear if the Senate might add a similar provision.
The measure would commission federal studies on ways to remove geographic inequities in Medicare payments and reward providers for good outcomes at lower costs. Federal health officials would adopt the studies' recommendations by 2012.
The studies would be done by the Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit agency linked to the National Academy of Sciences.
That choice got a nod of approval from Franciscan Skemp.
"I believe (the institute) is a credible group to do this study," Franciscan Skemp CEO Robert Nesse said. "I have good confidence that we'll start seeing some changes."